u.s. attorney

Cars. Cash. Phone charges. Utility bills. Concession stands. Golf carts. Iron Maiden keychains.

These were but a few of the many items over a dozen Indiana public officials have been charged with stealing or using public coffers to purchase for themselves over the past few years.

United States Attorney Josh Minkler announced Thursday a large-scale initiative bringing federal and state corruption-related charges against 15 individuals working in public service and governmental positions. 

The effort, called “Operation Public Accountability,” partnered the State Board of Accounts with the FBI, Indiana State Police, county sheriffs, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and state and local prosecutors filing charges against local fire department officials, school employees and various municipal and county employees from around the state.

“The focus was on individuals involved in public service,” said Minkler. “Our focus was to hold them accountable when they are trusted with public dollars."

The State Board of Accounts is responsible for ensuring financial accountability of state and local governments in their handling and reporting of public funds. This is done by performing periodic financial audits and conducting special investigations based on concerns discovered during regular audits, referrals from law enforcement agencies, reports of misappropriation from local officials, and credible complaints from citizens

In each of the cases highlighted, the State Board of Accounts collaborated with law enforcement and prosecutors to perform audit procedures to verify misappropriation concerns and assist in gathering evidence to support prosecutions.

In total, the State Board of Accounts is civilly charging the individuals listed for repayment of more than $1 million based on the misappropriations identified in these cases.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tiffany J. Preston is prosecuting all of the federal cases. An indictment is only a charge and not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

FEDERAL CASES

Norman Burgess, 44, Danville

Burgess served as the Treasurer of the Wayne Township Volunteer Fire Department in Hamilton County and is alleged to have stolen approximately $140,000 from the fire department.

According to an indictment filed March 13 in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana Indianapolis Division, Burgess worked in Noblesville and was entrusted with managing the WTVFD payroll, paying its vendors, and purchasing equipment.

The indictment charged that Burgess was part of the scheme between Jan. 4, 2013 and Oct. 31, 2016 to falsely represent that he was entitled to $59,656.49 in payroll payments, when he was not.

“As part of the scheme, Burgess issued 112 checks to himself to which he was not entitled, and falsely represented in many of the checks' memo lines that the payments were for 'payroll' expenses, when they were not,” wrote the Grand Jury.

The indictment further charged that Burgess used the department's ATM card to pay $568.30 to Forest Lawn Memory Gardens under the false pretense that they were business expenses, when in fact, they were used to pay funeral expenses for his deceased relative.

According to the Grand Jury, it was further part of the scheme that between July 10, 2015 and July 13, 2015, Burgess authorized a $1,500 cash payment to the Lapel Community Association Village Fair, when it did not.

“As a result of his false representation, Burgess withdrew $1,500 from the WTVFD's Key Bank checking account, and deposited the cash into his personal banking account at JP Morgan Chase,” wrote the Grand Jury.

Burgess was also charged with stealing $2,708.47 in cash withdrawals for “Petty Cash” when the the department has no petty cash.

The indictment also charged that between Jan. 9, 2013 and Nov. 2, 2016, Burgess made 226 unauthorized cash withdrawals from the department's business bank accounts totaling $71,133.70. All but eight of these withdrawals totaled $64,616.70, which Burgess is charged with using for his own personal expenditures. Four additional checks made to “Cash” were falsely represented as being for “Kitchen Supplies” and “Kitchen Stuff.” Four more cash withdrawals were made totaling $1,267.

Burgess has also been charged with making 104 unauthorized purchases from Amazon for his personal use totaling $3,983.66. These items included “sports memorabilia, a keyless FOB for a Chrysler vehicle, a political flag and costume mask, and an Iron Maiden key chain.”

The State of Indiana also requested Burgess repay $41,571.60 for special investigation costs.

Kellie Cline, 35, Greenwood

Cline served as the Extra-Curricular Activity Treasurer at Greenwood Middle School from 2013 and 2018. She is alleged to have stolen $58,535.56 from the school’s extra-curricular account.

“That [amount] could have paid for approximate 450 iPads that could have used for students at that school instead of being used to line her pockets,” said Minkler.

The charges could carry up to five years in prison.

According to the Grand Jury indictment filed Oct. 2 in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana Indianapolis Division, Cline was entrusted with managing the revenue generated from GMS's extra-curricular activities, such as sporting events, concessions, school lunches, textbook rentals, field trips, yearbook sales, and club fundraisers. During Cline's tenure, GMS received over $10,000 annually under federal programs from the U.S. Department of Education.

“Rather than deposit the full amount of the funds that GMS collected as revenue in the form of cash, checks, and money orders from extra-curricular activities … Cline retained the funds and used them for her own personal expenditures,” wrote the Grand Jury.

The State Board of Accounts requested Cline reimburse $22,425.76 in special investigation costs.

Sami Dillon, 38, Crawfordsville

Dillon served as the Clerk-Treasurer of Cayuga, in Vermillion County, from 2008 to 2015, and is alleged to have stolen tens of thousands by not depositing utility receipts.

According to the Grand Jury indictment filed Oct. 2 in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana Indianapolis Division, between 2012 and 2015, Cayuga received in excess of $10,000 annual under the federal Community Development Block Grant Program under the Office of Rural and Community Affairs through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

From 2012 through Nov. 8, 2015, Dillion allegedly “embezzled, stole, obtained by fraud, and without authority knowingly converted to her use and intentionally misapplied, at least $52,812.70” of Cayuga's funds

“Dillon adjusted her personal utility account balance in the Cayuga's computer system to falsely reflect a low or no balance,” wrote the Grand Jury.

In total, Dillon allegedly deprived Cayuga of approximately $6,105.64 in utility bills.

In addition, “Dillon intentionally failed to deposit approximately $46,707.06 in cash payments received from Cayuga's utility customers.”

“Rather than deposit the cash payments, Dillon used the funds for her own personal expenditures,” wrote the Grand Jury.

According to the State Board of Accounts, Dillon did not properly file federal and state taxes. Because of this, penalties, interest, and other charges were assessed by and paid to the Internal Revenue Service and the Indiana Department of Revenue in the amounts of $10,982.57 and $538.66, respectively.

The State of Indiana incurred additional investigative costs in the amount of $22,060.52, which Dillon is also being asked to repay.

Clint Madden, 51, Columbus 

Madden served as the Wayne Township Trustee and the Jonesville Volunteer Rural Fire Department Treasurer, in Bartholomew County between Jan. 1, 2012 and Dec. 31, 2014, and from Sept. 13, 2015 to Aug. 21, 2016. He is alleged to have misappropriated $108,269.07 from the township and $54,378.28 from the fire department.

According to the Grand Jury indictment filed Oct. 2 in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana Indianapolis Division, Madden drafted a check from Wayne Township's bank account to purchase a 2015 concession stand from a person identified only as Individual B for $28,000. Madden is charged with taking these funds for himself instead.

“It was further part of the scheme that Madden then entered into a lease purchase agreement for the concession stand in the amount of $40,060.80 between 'Wayne Township Trustee' and Company A, without Wayne Township's authorization,” wrote the Grand Jury. “Madden signed his own name and forged the signatures of two fire department employees in order to enter into the false and fraudulent lease agreement on Wayne Township's behalf. … Madden then took possession of the concession stand, and used funds from his personal bank accounts to begin making monthly installment payments on the fraudulent lease purchase agreement”

Nov. 4, 2016, Wayne Township received notice that Madden had defaulted on the lease purchase agreement. As a result of Madden's alleged false and fraudulent lease purchase agreement, Company A sued Wayne Township for $37,222.71.

Madden is further charged with selling a 2006 Hummer and a 2004 Cadillac Escalade that were owned by Wayne Township and used by JVRFD for $8,500 and $980, respectively, and pocketing the proceeds for himself.

The Grand Jury also alleges that Madden withdrew $17, 050 from Wayne Township's bank account to purchase items including a mower and golf cart, and pay for mowing. Madden is charged with taking the property for himself, and not paying for the services.

More mowing-related fraud was also charged.

“Madden intentionally overpaid $1,750 to Individual A for mowing services,” wrote the Grand Jury.

Between Aug. 18, 2015 and Oct. 3, 2016, Madden obtained fuel cards in Wayne Township's name under the false pretense that they would be used for fire department vehicles.

“Madden then used the fuel cards … to purchase fuel in the amount of $948.23 for Madden's personal vehicles,” stated the Grand Jury.

Madden is also charged with fraudulently using $5,246.69 from Wayne Township's bank accounts to repair and insure his own vehicles, including a 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche and a 2005 Buick Century Custom.

“Madden withdrew $8,883.65 in checks drawn from JVRFD's bank accounts to a purchase [the Avalanche] under the false pretense that the vehicle was for JVRFD's use, when, in fact, it was for Madden's and Individual A's personal use,” wrote the Grand Jury.

Also listed in the indictment is a charge of $4,485.85 withdrawal from the Township Assistance Fund that actually went to Madden's personal expenses, “such as a $595 check for repairs on Madden's and Individual A's 1998 Town and Country Van.”

Fraudulent telephone expenses were also charged. Funds totaling $8,264.62 were marked for the township's telephone expenses, when, in fact, they were for Madden's and other's personal telephone expenses. Another $5,207.20 was allegedly taken from JVRFD for Madden's personal telephone expenses.

Madden is charged with withdrawing $300 for a payment to a car dealership resulting from Madden's and Individual A's Dec. 31, 2015 purchase of their personal vehicle, a 2006 Jeep Wrangler.

“Nov. 14, 2015, Madden obtained a check drawn from Wayne Township's bank account in the amount of $3,660 to purchase a 2007 Dodge Charger and two spreaders at the Nov. 14, 2015 surplus auction,” wrote the Grand Jury.

Rather than deposit the funds and turn the Charger over to the department, Madden is charged with taking the vehicle for his own personal use and trading it toward the purchase of the Wrangler

Several other cash withdrawals were allegedly made by Madden from the department's accounts including one for $1,900, 14 cash withdrawals totaling $4,395, another withdrawal of $14,316.79, and a personal loan of $1,600 to Individual B, which Madden failed to repay

Madden is further charged with withdrawing $26,270 on March 6, 2013 for the purchase from an auction service of a Choice Yard Cart, a Polaris Ranger 6X6, an Electric Blue Buggy, a Kawasaki Zero Turn Mower, a Fleetwood Mallard Camper, and a 2006 GMC Roll Back Truck. Madden is charged with taking all but the Ranger for his personal use.

The Grand Jury also charged Madden with taking $1,600 from the department's coffers for a 1992 GMC Box Truck from Individual C for his own use.

April 20, 2016, Madden allegedly purchased $483.65 in goods from a home improvement store with department funds for his personal use.

Madden was requested to reimburse the State of Indiana $13,693.18 for the JVRFD special investigation costs, and $35,651.89 for the township special investigation costs.

Mathew Mathis, 47, Columbus

Mathis served as the Treasurer of the Hope Volunteer Fire Department in Bartholomew County between Jan. 1, 2015 and July 27, 2016, and is alleged to have stolen over $48,000 from the fire department.

According to a Grand Jury indictment filed Oct. 2 in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana Indianapolis Division, between Jan. 27, 2015 and June 9, 2016, Mathis drafted five unauthorized checks totaling $2,600 for personal expenditures.

Between April 15, 2015 and July 14, 2016, Mathis is also charged with making 44 unauthorized cash withdrawals totaling $31,905 from HVFD's bank accounts for personal use.

“It was further part of the scheme that on or about Sept. 25, 2015, Mathis made a $1,800 cash withdrawal from HVFD's bank account to supply a cash change fund for the annual HVFD fish fry,” wrote the Grand Jury. “It was further the part of the scheme that rather than depositing a refund in the amount of $1,800 to the HVFD bank accounts following the fish fry, Mathis intentionally retained funds for his personal use.”

HVFD held its annual fish fry Sept. 25, 2015, but none of the proceeds made it back to them.

“It was further part of the scheme that rather than deposit the $7,081 in proceeds into HVFD's bank account, Mathis intentionally retained the funds for his personal use,” wrote the Grand Jury.

The State of Indiana requested Mathis reimburse the $4,611.21 in special investigation costs 

STATE CASES

Rachel Bentz, 44, Portland

  • Bentz served as the Jay County Sheriff’s Department jail matron from Jan. 1, 2007 to April 2018. She is alleged to have stolen approximately $9,000 by not depositing inmate trustee receipts. This case is pending with the Jay County Prosecutor’s Office.

David Buzzard, 50, Columbus

  • Buzzard served as the trustee for the Rock Creek Township Trustee in Bartholomew County. He is alleged to have overpaid himself and his spouse $27,541.20. This case is pending in Bartholomew County with a special prosecutor. The State of Indiana is also requesting Buzzard reimburse the $4,444.55 in special investigation costs

Dallas Davis, 56, Russellville

  • Davis served as the Clerk-Treasurer for the Town of Russellville from Jan. 1, 2012 to Dec. 21, 2015, and is alleged to have stolen approximately $7,600 by not properly depositing utility receipts. This case is pending with the Putnam County Prosecutor’s Office.

Nicole DeMunck, 35, Michigan City

  • DeMunck served as the AK Smith Center Treasurer in the Michigan City School System. She is alleged to have stolen approximately $13,000. This case is pending with the LaPorte County Prosecutor’s Office. The State Board of Accounts requested Lowry also repay $8,737.73 in special investigation costs.

Monica Durrett, 56, and Jacqueline Fitzgerald, 54

  • Durrett and Fitzgerald worked at the Indianapolis Local Public Bond Bank. They are alleged to have stolen over $400,000 through various overpayments, including one scheme involving benefit leave time which netted them $19,755.42 and $418,289.29, respectively. This case is pending with the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office. “The Bond Bank has a policy to allow employees, once each calendar year, to receive payment in exchange for accrued benefit leave time,” stated the State Board of Accounts report. “Fitzgerald and Durrett received payments for benefit leave in excess of the amounts to which they were entitled.” In addition, the pair were requested to repay the special investigation fees incurred by the state in the amount of $27,704.50.

Nichole Lowry, 47, Kewanna

  • Lowry served as the Pulaski County Emergency Medical Services Director. She is alleged to have stolen $12,678.42 in training funds. This case is pending with the Pulaski County Prosecutor’s Office. The State Board of Accounts requested Lowry also repay $19,513.20 in special investigation costs.

Donald G. Minnick, 64, Gosport

  • Minnick served as an Owen County Commissioner. He improperly sold a vehicle to the county with a loss of $7,500. He was found guilty in Owen County.

Cheryl Pruitt, 50, Gary

  • Pruitt served as the former Gary Schools Superintendent, is alleged to have received a $1,256.75 “reimbursement” for funds that she never spent.

Angela White, 44, Indianapolis

  • White served as the Extracurricular Treasurer for Robey Elementary School in Wayne Township, in Marion County from Jan. 23, 2017 to March 20, 2018. She is alleged to have stolen approximately $15,107.38 from the school. Charges are pending with the Marion County Prosecutors Office. The State Board of Accounts requested White also repay $6,363 in special investigation costs.

Rob Burgess, News Editor at NUVO Newsweekly, can be reached by email at rburgess@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-808-4614 or on Twitter @robaburg.

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